For anyone who is a long-time fan of techno, there should be little introduction needed for Ken Ishii who is a true pioneer of the genre especially in his home country of Japan. He made many releases on R&S in the early ‘90s and has even written original music for Olympic sporting events. His career has lasted over twenty years, and we are truly honoured to be speaking with such a legend.
> For the people reading this who haven’t heard your music before, how would you describe your style and the key elements that define it?
Techno. Not only the stuff for DJs to play, but something with listening pleasure.
> Your latest EP available to stream at the top of this interview was on Combine Audio, please could you tell me about that release?
I met the label boss Paula Cazenave in Granada Spain to play together at Industrial Copera on New Years Eve of 2017. We had a nice chat there and then a few months later started talking about a collaboration, which this EP is the result of.
> Many people consider you the person to have pioneered techno in Japan, what are your personal thoughts on this, and how did you first discover the genre?
When I started making my own music and DJ’ing in the late ’80s, the techno scene in Japan was so small, like a peanut… I made an international debut as a recording artist on Belgium’s R&S in ’93 and all of a sudden, lots of Japanese media picked up on me and techno music, which quickly led to a nationwide boom of people knowing about the genre. My first encounter with techno was a late-night radio program in ’88 or something, around that time. They introduced Detroit techno as a new style of dance music and mentioned the pioneers like Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. I ran into an import record shop the next day to try and buy some. At that time there were no magazines and of course no internet in Japan that covered this kind of music, so I used to buy DJ Magazine and Mixmag imported from UK at premium prices.
> Doing a bit of research into your career I was impressed to discover you composed some official music for the Winter Olympics. Was there much of a story behind this incredible achievement, and which of your musical accomplishments are you most proud of?
That was Nagano Olympics in Winter ’98. This is definitely one of my previous works I’m still very proud of. The media branch of the Japanese Olympic organisation contacted my management directly in order to ask me if I’d do it. I thought like “I’m not Ryuichi Sakamoto… are they really sure they meant to ask me for this?”. The answer was they wanted something fresh and unexpected so that’s why they chose me for the great honour. It was truly a big project for me and the theme song was repeatedly played and broadcasted in over 100 countries during the Olympics, but an interesting fact is that I produced and recorded this song entirely in my tiny bedroom with my usual, quite limited gear at that time.
> Could you talk us through the creative process of putting a track together, and list any specific equipment used to bring your sound to life?
I normally put on ProTools, which I have been using for 20 years, and start messing around with plugin synths to get some initial ideas. Once I get a good sound or a riff going, I seek the appropriate beats and percussion sounds for it. Then add other sounds one by one while along the way tweaking EQs and effects.
> In your career of over twenty years there have been many trends and technological developments that have improved various bits of equipment. How do you think these have affected the music you make currently in comparison to your early releases?
I started making music with only hardware – keyboards, drum machines, sequencer, sampler, effectors, mixer etc, and used to record completed tracks straightaway to a DAT tape. It was a very primitive way to work, but this was what lots of other techno artists did back in the days. After a few years of using a hard disk recorder like Alesis adat and Roland VS-880, I started using ProTools in the late ’90s with outboard controllers. I think my editing techniques evolved a lot by watching a big colour screen of a computer, not a cigarette sized black and white LED screen on a sequencer. Plus, the sound quality improved with it. Over the years I’ve reduced the amount of outboards and now everything can be finished within a computer, which is how I get the cleanest sound quality. Software has evolved all the time and there are lots of things that are much more easily processed than before, but since you are able to do so many, or too many things by yourself, now it takes you more time to complete music I’m working on.
> Could you give some advice or words of wisdom to any aspiring producers who might look to your music for inspiration?
Listen to other people’s music as much as possible and make something different from all of them!
> We like to finish our interviews with a couple of questions that are a little bit light hearted… without getting to personal, could you tell us something many don’t know about you?
I’m an MMA fan for a long time. Since the first UFC happened in ’93. Anybody else interested?
> You don’t need to mention names, but what’s the most “outrageous” thing you have ever seen happen in a club… was it something outrageously brilliant, like a blindfolded DJ mixing seamlessly and scratching with their elbows, or something outrageously cringe-worthy, like some embarrassing drunk person urinating on the dance floor?
Okay. There was a club in Osaka Japan that closed a few years ago. Once I got in the club for the first time, I was surprised by what was there right next to the dance floor. It was a huge water tank like 5m x 5m x 3m in size with water, some land and lots of plants inside. And a few otters kept running and swimming in there like crazy! Note it was an indoor club. Then I DJ’ed watching them move restlessly and feeling the smell out of them all night… Later I heard from one of the workers at the club that they had to clean the water tank every day before the club opened. He said it was a nightmare…
> Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, is there anything extra you want to add before we wrap up the conversation?
Thank you too! On top of some EP’s and remixes coming up in the next few months, I will release my original album later this year. It will be the first Ken Ishii album made in 13 years and I would love you guys to keep an eye out for it!
> You can buy Ken Ishii’s new release on Beatport from …HERE…